Two Democrats risk U.S. interests by blocking envoy

Friday, September 24, 2010

FOR THE AWARD for Most Craven Election-Year Pandering at the Expense of the National Interest, we nominate -- this week -- Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). Ms. Boxer, who is facing a tough reelection fight, and Mr. Menendez, who heads the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, are blocking the confirmation of a top-notch State Department diplomat, Matthew J. Bryza, as ambassador to Azerbaijan, an energy-rich and strategically important nation in the volatile Caucasus region.

The two senators are being cheered on by the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), a particularly noxious lobby that claims to represent Armenian Americans, many of whom live in California. On Wednesday, ANCA dispatched a jubilant e-mail announcing that Ms. Boxer had placed a hold on Mr. Bryza's confirmation after its approval by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; that could prevent his approval by the full Senate in the near future. Mr. Menendez joined the hold.

Mr. Bryza is an unlikely target for a political fight. Highly regarded by both Republicans and Democrats, he has spent the past 13 years working to advance U.S. interests in the Caucasus at the National Security Council and the State Department. He served for three years as co-chair of the Minsk group, a coalition of nations seeking to broker peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Mr. Bryza won the respect of both sides; both governments are supporting his nomination.

So what is Ms. Boxer's objection? The senator claims that Mr. Bryza has been unwilling "to speak out forcefully in the face of increasing Azerbaijani aggression" against Armenia. This is ludicrous. Mr. Bryza, acting like all nominees under the instructions of his State Department superiors, has simply echoed the Obama administration's statements -- which have opposed violence by both sides and insisted that there is no military solution to the conflict. What stands out here is not Mr. Bryza's public statements, but his record as a peace negotiator -- which makes him the American most likely to prevent more aggression.

Mr. Menendez, echoing ANCA's ugly propaganda, has questioned Mr. Bryza's "very close ties to Turkey"; the diplomat's wife, scholar Zeyno Baran, is Turkish-born. Yet Ms. Baran has been an outspoken critic of the current Turkish government; it is shameful that the ethnic origin of a U.S. diplomat's wife should be used against him. (After first telling us that Mr. Menendez was concerned about Mr. Bryza's wife, his office backpedaled, saying that what worried the senator was "ties to Turkish government officials." Our request for the names of those officials, and an explanation of why "ties to officials" of a major NATO ally would be of concern, went unanswered.)

While claiming to support the interests of Armenia, ANCA has repeatedly undermined them. Its lobbying has made reconciliation between Armenia and Turkey, and between Armenia and Azerbaijan, more difficult -- thus helping to perpetuate Armenia's impoverishment and overdependence on Russia. If ANCA succeeds in blocking the nomination of a competent U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan, it will only lessen U.S. influence in the Caucasus and make war more likely. In advancing such interests, Ms. Boxer and Mr. Menendez disgrace themselves.

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